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UTENRIKS-Internasjonale forhold - utenriks- og sikkerhetspolitikk og norske interesser

Contested Ukraine: Military Patrotism, Russian Influence and Implications for European Security

Alternative title: Striden om Ukraina: Militær-patriotisme, russisk påvirkning og implikasjoner for europeisk sikkerhet

Awarded: NOK 6.0 mill.

Since 2014, the sovereignty of Ukraine has been openly contested by both Russia and various rebel forces in the East and South of Ukraine. In our project “Contested Ukraine”, we argue that this contestation is not merely military. Also, there is an ongoing battle for the hearts and minds of the population. Both in the occupied territories and in remaining parts of Ukraine, individuals are rethinking their relation to the Ukrainian state, Russia and Europe. We believe Russia is employing a range of new and old tools to exploit the situation to its own benefit. Within the occupied part of Donbas, moreover, rebel leaders develop new ideas of “nationhood” to consolidate their own power. Furthermore, the contestation over identity brings about both security-related and political consequences for Europe. In the project, we aim to: 1) study so-called “military patriotic clubs” particularly in the occupied parts of the Donbas region and analyze their role in the conflict and relation to Russia; 2) determine how Russia works to reshape Ukrainian society and how Ukraine responds to this challenge; and 3) consider the possible consequences of this development for European security. What lessons can we learn from the conflict in Ukraine? The project participants will study the footprint of Russian actors on Ukrainian society within and outside the occupied territories. We seek to better understand the possible “society-centric” strategies of Russia – how Russia relates to societies as wartime objectives and to what consequences. We will explore this Russian footprint on the local, regional, national and international level, looking for the common denominators. In this way, we seek to expand our theoretical knowledge beyond what we already know of Russian methods of influence. In part, our data will be collected through digital and physical fieldwork in the occupied territories and expert interviews in Ukraine.

`Contested Ukraine’ argues that the implications of the Ukrainian crisis on European security can only be understood against the backdrop of identity formation, regional diversity and cross-national influences. The project approaches Ukraine as a central site of political and ideational contestation with repercussions for European security, particularly Russia-Western relations. We argue that threats in the societal realm have become increasingly important in this contestation. This project uses the concept of “society-centric warfare” as an overarching perspective to emphasize the role of societies as subjects of contestation. ‘Contested Ukraine’ spans from innovative case-studies of "military patriotism" in the occupied part of Donbas, via structured research on the footprint of Russian identity-influencing activity in the government-controlled Ukraine to a lessons-learned approach with focus on European security. Analyses of the Ukrainian crisis, domestic and identity structures in Ukraine, and implications for European security have too often been hampered by superficial assumptions about the nature of the Donbas conflict. Ukrainian affairs post 2013-14 beg for more nuanced research by international research teams employing both Russian- and Ukrainian language sources. Our research team is tailored to interlink micro and macro-perspectives and overcome scholarly polarization. The project has three main focus areas; 1) map and operationalize the impact of "military patriotic activity" in the occupied part of Donbas/Crimea and analyze its relevance to illegal border formation and “society-centric warfare”, 2) determine which society-centric strategies Russia employs to reshape Ukrainian society and how Ukraine responds to that effort; and 3) consider implications for European security of domestic fault lines in Ukraine and Russian efforts at leveraging these.

Funding scheme:

UTENRIKS-Internasjonale forhold - utenriks- og sikkerhetspolitikk og norske interesser